History of Race Categories Not Favorable

There is something fundamentally wrong with government mandating segregation by race, including political districts, to encourage a particular racial election outcome. In my mind, there aren’t any legitimate purposes for racial segregation. History books around the globe contain reams of written pages chronicling deleterious results of racial segregation; in concentration and internment camps, on forced marches across continents, following trails of tears and on reservations, exoduses, slavery, political final solutions, and yet to be written, the history of ethnic cleansing in Eastern Europe. In the face of such overwhelming evidence of past and present governments’ inability to govern fairly and justly racially autonomous groups of people, why does our government continue to classify and separate us into political districts by race? Why don’t we use the coercive force of government to eliminate official racial categories? This is not to say that individuals should not be proud of their respective racial heritage, to the contrary, one’s race ought to be as one’s religious heritage, important to the individual but none of the government’s business.

Nearly one hundred years ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harlan, writing in dissent from Plessy v. Ferguson put the issue of race segregation this way, “Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” Notwithstanding Justice Harlan’s dissenting argument ¼more than a half century before its time¼ the Supreme Court established the “Separate but Equal Doctrine” with the Plessy Decision in 1898. Under the Plessy doctrine, dark colored skin represented a permanent badge of inferiority for Americans with African ancestry. The doctrine allowed states to enact so-called “Jim Crow” segregation laws. These laws adversely affected every aspect of our individual, social, and institutional life, from one’s birth to death. For example, these laws required separate wings in hospitals for white and nonwhite patients as well as separate white and nonwhite graveyards for burial of a deceased person’s remains.

Nonwhite Americans remained without political power under a yoke of legal segregation until 1954, when the Supreme Court ruled segregation unlawful in Brown vs. Board of Education. Today, nearly forty years after the Brown decision, many of the descendants of those individuals referred to in the Constitution as “other persons,” remain at the margins of our society in de facto segregation. Why? Some scholars suggest that race is now a power source for nonwhite Americans. Author Shelby Steele writing in a 1992 article, “The New Segregation,” for Hillsdale College’s newsletter, Imprimis, discusses the idea of race as power. Professor Steele suggests that during the civil rights movement nonwhite Americans “¼tapped into the moral power inspired by a 300-year history of victimization and oppression and used it to help transform society, to humanize it, to make it more tolerant and open.” Dr. Steele argues that nonwhite people learned to use race as a source of power to overcome oppression and victimization. But, today, some individuals and institutions empowered during the civil rights movement, want to convert the moral power flowing out of victimization and oppression into nonwhite political power. To create this nonwhite political power, our political leaders are drawing voting districts that artificially segregate white Americans from nonwhite Americans. Professor Steele writes in his article that the leaders of the original black power movement told a white power structure, “Anytime you make race a source of power you are going to guarantee suffering, misery, and inequity.”

So today when government sanctions racial categories and one group of Americans ascribes upon themselves the official status of “white,” it necessarily excludes those in the nonwhite status. Nonwhite Americans will never be able to forget or forgive white Americans for the 300 years of racial domination and oppression they suffered. To be ascribed a nonwhite status ¼the 1990 Census listed l6 nonwhite racial classifications¼ has the effect of being devalued as a citizen. Nonwhite people view history of their own oppression and victimization by whites as a result of the politicization of white skin. These past political abuses by many individuals cause many nonwhite Americans to politically suspect white Americans. In light of this history, our government will never be able to redistrict enough political power, legislate enough welfare, or mandate sufficient affirmative action policies, to undo the real and illusory effects of 300 years of white domination of nonwhite Americans. The best, and in my opinion the only way to eliminate this politics of race is to eliminate racial categories. This would go a long way toward abolishing the perception of advantage and privilege that historical circumstance assigns to those among us born with an exclusively European racial heritage. Eliminating the categories would also eliminate the disadvantage of being classified nonwhite in a majority white society.


Originally Published: April 1993, Montgomery Advertiser

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